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What is Lemon Myrtle?

By S. N. Smith
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) is a citrus-fragranced spice that is native to coastal regions of Australia. Its use as a flavoring agent in cooking is limited primarily to Australian cuisine, but it is slowly taking hold in regions around the globe where it has migrated, particularly in the southern portions of Europe and the United States, and South Africa.

The lemon myrtle tree is generally petite but can occasionally attain a height of over 60 feet (20 meters). The fragrant leaves, which are 2 to 5 inches (5 to 12 centimeters) long, are dark green, glossy, and lanceolate, or lance-shaped. The small, cream-colored flowers of the tree grow in clusters at branch tips throughout the summer season.

Lemon myrtle trees are also grown in regions of China and Southeast Asia, where the spice leaf is prized for its essential oil, which is used for both culinary and medicinal applications. The taste is bright and citrusy, with a pronounced lemon flavor. The leaves may be used either fresh or dried. Dried leaves of good quality have an intense flavor that may rival the flavor of fresh leaves.

Culinary Uses
Because the flavor of lemon myrtle resembles that of the citrus fruit so closely but lacks the fruit's acidity, it is especially useful in recipes that are milk- or cream-based. It imparts a strong lemony flavor and won't cause dairy products to curdle. On the other hand, it is unsuitable for extended cooking times, as the lemon flavor begins to dissipate and a strong eucalyptus flavor can begin to emerge. For this reason, this spice is more successfully used to flavor cookies, ice creams and sorbets, pasta, stir-fries, fish, and grilled meats than foods requiring longer cooking times, such as roasts and dense cakes.

In addition to its use in prepared dishes, lemon myrtle is a good choice to add flavor to spice rubs and marinades for poultry and fish, flavored vinegars, salad dressings, and dips. It can even be used as a flavoring agent in hot or iced tea.

Medicinal Uses
The essential oil obtained from lemon myrtle contains antimicrobial compounds and is often used as an ingredient in shampoos, therapeutic body lotions, soaps, and household cleaners. The oil is believed to possess the ability to repel fleas and is therefore a feature of some chemical-free pet shampoos.

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Discussion Comments

By anon282117 — On Jul 27, 2012

There is a coffee/tea house in Pittsburgh that sells organic lemon myrtle. It's wonderful and very reasonable priced.

By julies — On Apr 15, 2012

If you like the smell of lemon or lemongrass, you would also enjoy the scent of lemon myrtle. I think the scent of lemon myrtle is even stronger than straight lemon essential oil.

One of my favorite ways to use lemon myrtle essential oil is a few drops in a diffuser. This essential oil is a great germicide and I like to clear the air of germs if we are sniffling and sneezing.

It also has a fresh, uplifting aroma that makes the air around you smell clean. I also put a few drops in a spray bottle of water to disinfect my sinks and counter tops.

This essential oil can be a 'hot' oil, so I usually avoid using it directly on my skin. I love all the benefits of this oil and never get tired of the lemon scent.

By LisaLou — On Apr 14, 2012

I like to use natural remedies when it comes to treating my kids and pets. I remember reading somewhere else where lemon myrtle shampoo for pets was a great flea repellent.

After reading this, I searched everywhere for this and was never able to find any where I live. Has anybody else used this as a pet shampoo and had good results?

I don't like using the chemicals that come in so many of the other products used to repel fleas.

Also, does anybody know which companies sell this online in the US? I found this available on some Australian websites, but didn't think I wanted to pay that much for shipping.

By bagley79 — On Apr 14, 2012

I love to make a marinade for chicken or pork using ground lemon myrtle. This is a simple marinade with olive oil, lemon myrtle, salt and pepper.

I have also tried lemon myrtle tea which is wonderful if you love the taste of lemon. The tea had a hint of eucalyptus in it and I love this combined with the citrus taste.

I have found one specialty shop where I can buy the lemon myrtle, but other than this place, I have not been able to find it anywhere else.

Hopefully this will become more widely used in the US, as it has a wonderful taste. There are also so many lemon myrtle benefits when using it in cooking and beauty products.

By myharley — On Apr 13, 2012

A few years ago I had the chance to travel to Australia, and can still picture in my mind the rows and rows of lemon myrtle trees I saw growing.

I was surprised at how tall they were, and how many of them were planted together. I was told it can take several years for them to get to the point where their leaves are available to use.

The commercial lemon myrtle crop is big business in this part of the world. In Australia, they have the most wonderful smelling lemon myrtle soap. This is very common here and you can find it in most of the boutiques and stores.

It is not as common in the US and the few times I have found it, the scent is not as strong as I remember when I was in Australia.

Since I love the smell of lemon, I immediately loved this scent and like to use it in as many beauty products as I can find.

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